The Great Naval Secret:
PRAXELE’S came known invention throughout bethe length and breadth of the land, wherever newspapers circulated, as “The Great Naval Secret”; but it was a full month after Praxele’s visit to Washington that the papers got the first inkling of what had occurred. It was the biggest story they had missed in years.
The central figure in the affair was the inventor himself, Peter Praxele, a Southerner, and an oddlooking fellow, standing six-footfour in his stocking feet, straight and thin as a sapling with eyes that suggested banked-up fires.
He had a peculiar genius for mechanics and had put several unusual inventions on the market, designed mostly for purposes of destruction. For the past couple o f years he had been working on an improved s u bmarine, conducting his experiments in an isolated lagoon in the south of Florida. Here he had an elaborate workshop and everything needed for the carrying out of his tests. A couple of men, both skilled mechanics, had been with him from the start. They worked in absolute secrecy, Praxele himself going thirty miles for mail and supplies once a month. Otherwise they had no communication with the outside world.
Then one day the naval department received a letter from Praxele in which he claimed to have perfected a device by which a submarine could be kept beneath the surface almost indefinitely. He gave no particulars other than a general hint that he had found the means of expelling foul air and replacing it with fresh, and had invented a highly improved periscope. With all this agitation in the country on the score of America’s supposed unpreparedness for war the department became interested in Praxele’s claim and despatched one of their experts to look it over. The officer met Praxele and was taken in the latter’s motor boat to the lagoon, the trip being made by such a roundabout route that, on reaching their destination, the expert had absolutely no notion of the exact location, He found a fully equipped submarine, which Praxele and his men had built. The inventor took him for a trial spin and they remained
beneath the surface of the water the better part of a day. The expert returned to Washington convinced that Praxele’s disc o v e r y would revolutionize naval warfare.
Some correspond e n c e followed and it was finally arranged that Praxele should bring the full details of his new submarine to Washington. I t would be passed upon, and, if found satisfactory, purchased outright for the nation. Accordingly the inventor came north, bringing with him his drawings and plans. Only one other complete set of plans was in existence, safely hidden at his Florida headquarters. He arrived in the capital and went to the New Willard, registering there under the name of A. B. Ponsonby. Suspicious by nature,
Praxele believed it necessary to shroud every move in the darkest mystery, in order, presumably, to escape the possible observation of emissaries of other nations.
Two days later he called on Admiral Haldenby and Briscoe Robarts, the latter, head of the submarine branch of the service, meeting them in the office of the former. Despite the well-established reputations of both men, Praxele appears to have been reluctant about handing the papers over to them, fearing that by some chicanery he might be robbed of the credit and profit attaching to the invention. Finally, however, he drew a bulky envelope from an inside coat pocket and, breaking the seal, produced the plans. Haldenby and Robarts looked them over for a few minutes. Even in the cursory examination possible in so short a time they found the germs of a great possibility in the plans of the eccentric inventor.
After a lengthy and trying debate— rendered so by the inordinate distrust of Praxele who saw in every suggestion a move to entrap him—it was decided that the plans should be left with Robarts for a day, so that he could look them over in detail with experts in his department. He would then be in a position on the following day to discuss the matter fully with
the inventor. Praxele gave up possession of the precious papers grudgingly.
“There are some points that will require an explanation now,” he stated, “otherwise even your experts,” with an accent on the word, “will be quite at sea. I could run over these points with you briefly.”
Robarts suggested that they do this at once. Praxele at first seemed willing but then drew back, as though anxious to establish his position in the matter first. He addressed himself direct to Admiral Haldenby.
“Do you realize the incalculable importance of what I am offering?” he demanded. “Of what value would be your super-Dreadnoughts if the water beneath them swarmed with submarines that never came to the surface? One nation could paralyze the commerce of the world. In view of what I have to offer what assurance have I that the Government will deal fairly with me?”
“Surely as a loyal citizen you have no need to ask that,” answered Haldenby. His temper had been unsettled by the temporizing of Praxele and he spoke with a certain degree of heat. “If your plans prove practicable—as I think they will— you can rely on the utmost generosity in the treatment accorded you.”
“Fine words, Admiral Haldenby, but tell me, what value are words?” responded Praxele. “Can you give me any guarantee? Can I get in writing what Uncle Sam is prepared to do for the man who offers him the secret of under-seas domination? What treatment have inventors received before at the hands of your department and Government? Sent around from office to office, left for years to kick their heels in ante-rooms, hampered at every turn, robbed of their rights! It is going to be different in my case, and I am giving you due warning.”
He had risen as he spoke and was stalking with ungainly strides about the room, gesticulating forcibly with both arms. He went on to name men who had offered inventions to the Government and had suffered through departmental red tape, piling case on case with the readiness of a lawyer before the jury. Haldenby made no effort to interrupt—realizing probably that it would be useless—but tilted back his chair and followed the tirade quite soberly. Briscoe Robarts listened with an air of rather puzzled amusement.
Suddenly the inventor’s mood changed. He seated himself again in his chair and, leaning his long arms on Haldenby’s desk, fixed the admiral with his eye as he proceeded. He spoke in a less vibrant tone.
“I don’t want you to think I am disloyal or unreasonable,” he declared. “But this thing has been on my mind for a long time. I’m afraid my discovery will be stolen. I suspect everyone. I dreaded to leave my two mechanics alone. And then, erentlemen, think of this. For ten years I’ve given myself to the interests of science. For two years I’ve slaved in that swampy hole, never seeing a soul but my workmen—every minute of the day devoted to the obsession of haste, the long hours of sleepless nights filled with endless puzzling over unsolved points. I’ve given the best of my life to it. I’ve spent my last cent.
“Well, I’ve finished my work. I am master of the depths! Neptune must hand over his trident to Peter Praxele ! But I’m worn out in body, weary in mind and —I’m dead broke. I want to get everything settled now so the uncertainty that’s weighing on my mind can be removed and I can get away where things are bright and there’s plenty of entertainment for a man positively starving for the society of people of his own sort. I want to enjoy the fruits of my hard work.”
“What can you do for me?” he went on after a pause. “Shall I have to wait for months while bills are introduced and amended and shunted back and forth from House to House? Is there any way of getting this matter through the way it would be settled by any large business corporation?”
He was so intensely in earnest about it that Admiral Haldenby was for a moment nonplussed for a suitable reply. The justice of the inventor’s position was palpable, but equally clear in the Admiral’s mind was the impossibility of hastening the ponderous evolutions of the federal machinery.
“But,” he protested, “I am not the whole administration. All that is in my power is to make certain recommendations. As to how soon the necessary legislation could be put through the House, that’s a matter quite beyond me. Of course, as soon as the submarine has been proven a success, you would have no difficulty in getting backing.”
They discussed the matter at some length, Praxele with warmth, Haldenby in a placating mood. At the end of the debate, the Southerner rose and put on his hat, a wide-brimmed, black felt.
“Can’t we go over the plans now?” suggested Robarts, whose experience with men of inventive turn had taught him the danger of permitting procrastination.
“I’ll return after lunch,” said Praxele. He began to gather up the plans but Haldenby suggested that they be put in the vaults where they would be safer than in his possession. The Southerner dubiously assented to this course.
He returned at three o’clock. Robarts produced the plan? and an hour was taken up in the discussion of certain features, at the end of which time the doubtful points had been made quite clear. Robarts carefully folded the papers and returned them to the envelope, sealing it securely.
The two men were alone in Robart’s office at the time, Haldenby having been present during the early part of the interview only.
“I want to impress one point on you young man,” said Praxele. “Those pa-
pers must be guarded with the utmost care. I have not mentioned it before but— representatives of a certain European country are in this city now for the purpose of getting possession of those plans!
I have been held up on the street, my room at the hotel has been ransacked in my absence, my life has been threatened if I do not consent to sell my secret to the country in question !”
“Heavens, man ! Why didn’t you say something about this before?” exclaimed Robarts, startled. “This is a case for our secret service. How do you suppose the information got out?”
“That’s the point that is worrying me,” said Praxele. “My men have had no opportunity to give it away. Ever since they went south with me I’ve read every letter they’ve received or written. There has been no leak at my camp. But a week after my first letter was sent to the Naval Department here I received a letter that showed the news had circulated. A man with a foreign name wrote me from New York offering a fabulous sum for the exclusive rights to my invention for the country he represents. The leak must be in your department!”
“I can’t credit that,” declared Robarts. “And yet—. Well, what else happened?”
“Last evening I left the hotel for a short stroll,” continued Praxele. “When I returned I saw at once that the room had been visited in my absence. Despite careful efforts to replace everything, it was obvious that the room had been ransacked. Luckily, I had carried the plans with me.”
“What did the hotel detective find out?” asked Robarts.
“I didn’t report the matter,” replied the inventor. “It seemed advisable to keep it quiet. The second attempt came this morning on my way to keep our appointment. I made the trip on foot. As I was turning a quiet corner, a large car drew up near the curb and two men sprang out at me. The attack was so sudden and daring that I was almost overpowered before I could raise an arm in self-defence. I struggled and cr>ed for help. My overcoat was torn off my back. Luckily it contained a bulky envelope and they made off with this, coolly tossing me back the coat. Had they cared to risk danger for another minute from the crowd that was
collecting, held back, while the struggle proceeded, by two men in the machine with revolvers, they would undoubtedly have secured the right envelope.”
“What’s to be done?” asked Robarts, excitedly. “I could have a squad of detectives out in fifteen minutes to scour the city.”
But Praxele advised that nothing be done. “It would be difficult to prove a case even if we caught the right parties and international complications might arise,” he pointed out. “In any case the plans ai e now safely in the keeping of the department and I presume you can be depended upon to see that they are kept. No harm has been done. Would it not be better to let the matter drop?”
“Y'ou’re right,” assented Robarts, after a moment’s consideration. “We would gain nothing but very undesirable publicity by endeavoring to round up these foreigners. But I shall see to it that they have no further opportunities for mischief. But what about yourself? They’ve threatened you, you say?”
“I’m not afraid of that,” said the inventor. “I did get a letter but it was bluff, of course. They would attempt no violence in my case because the knowledge I possess is too valuable. All I am nervous about is the safety of the plans. One thing is certain, there is a spy in your office here.”
“I can’t understand that at all!” declared Robarts, emphatically. “Your first letter was opened by the secretary to the Secretary of the Navy himself and handed to the chief. It then was conveyed direct to Admiral Haldenby, who has conducted all correspondence with you since. There are just six people in the department who know anything of the matter— the three I have named, the Admiral’s secretary, Brookes who inspected your machine and myself. Confined to that circle, no information could get out.”
“But it did,” declared Praxele, bluntly. “If one traitor could be found among the twelve chosen disciples of Christ, is it beyond belief that one could be found among six Government officials?”
“It will be investigated, of course,” said Robarts. “In the meantime, I’ll take no chances on further complications. No one shall know that the plans have been left with me—that will lessen the chances of further leakages. And I’ll get the services of two Government detectives as a bodyguard.”
He telephoned to the head of the secret service department and made known his wants. Then he put the envelope into an inner pocket and buttoned up his coat.
“On my head be it, if anything goes wrong,” he said, soberly. “But nothing will. Rest assured on that point.”
Two detectives, wide-awake human bull dogs who had received no instructions other than to guard the head of the submarine service for as long as he deemed a guard necessary, sat in Robarts’ office for the rest of the afternoon. At 5.30 he left for home, taking the two detectives with him in a taxi-cab. They made one stop on the way home at a cigar store, Robarts getting out to purchase a supply of tobacco for his bodyguard who were to spend the night at his house. One of the detectives descended with him. As Robarts came out of the store, he collided with a man who was passing, a husky individual muffled up to the neck in a heavy overcoat. Another man, walking along behind, was stopped up short and, for a brief interval Robarts was practically held between the two strangers.
Then he felt himself thrown backward forcibly—by the detective, as he learned afterward. The latter seized one of the strangers and loudly halloed to his mate who, not needing the summons, had already sprung from the taxicab. The second detective s ecured the other stranger. There were loud and indignant protestations and a crowd started to collect.
In the meanti m e, Robarts stepped into the doorway of the cigar store and cautiously felt the contents of his inside coat pocket. The envelope was still there.
“All right, boys,” he directed, stepping toward the taxi-cab. “Let them go. No harm done.”
“Hadn’t we better take ’em along to make sure?” asked Rogers, the senior of
the two detectives. “It looked like a deliberate plant to me.”
“No, it’s all a mistake. I’m sorry, gentlemen,” said Robarts, nodding to the two wayfarers who had been thus roughly handled.
Accordingly the car started off again amid a hub-bub of abuse from two volubly indignant individuals and a sympathetic crowd.
Robarts ate a hearty dinner and then retired to his study to spend the evening in studying the precious plans. The detectives sat in a room across the hall.
He took the envelope from his pocket, broke the seal—and then dropped back in his chair, stunned with amazement and fright.
For the envelope contained nothing but blank sheets of paper!
WHEN the startled chief of the U.S.
submarine service recovered himself sufficiently to think with any degree of coherence, he examined the envelope, and found that it was identical in every detail to the one which had contained the plans. He then stepped into the hall and summoned the two detectives.
“Something very grave has happened,” he said in the quiet tone that comes natural to the man of action in moments of great stress. “Could you pick up the threads of that little mix-up we had on our way home?”
“I knew we oughtn’t to have let those birds get away from us,” grumbled Rogers. “I didn’t like the looks of it at all. You remember I said—”
H e stopped frozen by the furious glance that the official turned on him. “Do your duty without any comment!” ordered Robarts.
In a minute Robarts had Admiral Haldenby on the line and had communicated the news to him. The latter promised to get over at once and suggested that Praxele be notified. Accordingly Robarts called the New Willard and located the inventor after some trouble, owing to the fact that Praxele had not seen fit to advise them of his havi n g registered under the name of Ponsonby. The description that Robarts supplied sufficed to locate him, however. The personality of the inventor was too unmistakable for escape from recognition under any alias.
The two men arrived at the house al-
most together. Robarts told them, with the meagre details at his disposal, of the loss of the plans. Praxele heard it through with surprising calmness; but when he spoke it was in a voice ominously suppressed and the fire, which always seemed smouldering in his deep-sunken eyes, was playing in quick flashes on the surface.
“I half expected this,” he said, as though to himself. “I should have been warned when the first news got out. I might have known they would steal the secret I could have sold outside my country for a fortune!”
Haldenby and Robarts exchanged a glance. “Mr. Praxele does not seem to put much credence in your story, Robarts,” said the former. “He thinks we are trying to steal his plans!”
“Think! I know!” exclaimed the inventor, with concentrated fury. “Am I so dull of wit that you thought I would not see through your clumsy, paltry subterfuge? What kind of men do you have at the head of a nation’s defence that they let themselves be robbed on the public street under the eyes of detectives? It is too childish, too absurd! Steal my plans, honorable sirs, but for God’s sake don't insult my intelligence by expecting me to believe this trumped-up yarn!”
“You’re right. It does sound childish,” said Robarts, sternly. “We haven’t time to convince you, however. The fact remains that the plans are gone. They’re in the hands of European agents this minute and we’ve got to get them back! Just forget your suspicions for a minute and tell us everything you know about the attempts made to steal the plans when they were in your possession. Come man, quick about it! The future of the country may depend on our promptness.”
“If it is a necessary part of the farce comedy that I give you facts quite beyond the real issue, I will carry out my part,” said Praxele, with elaborate sarcasm. “But let me tell you, gentlemen, when I leave this house, I go at once to the Secretary of the Navy with my story!”
The information he was able to give with reference to the two episodes, the search of his room at the hotel and the street attack, did not, after all, throw any further light on the question. The men who had attacked him had been foreigners quite unmistakably but P'axele was not certain that he would be able to recognize any of them aerain, so sudden and brief had the fracas been.
In half an hour the elaborate machinery of the federal secret service had been put in action. Passengers leaving by night trains at all the stations were examined and cross-questioned. A systematic canvass of the hotels was begun and watches were put on all foreign embassies. Detective Rogers and his companion began an investigation of the events which had occurred in front of the tobacco store.
By noon of the next day a vast amount of evidence of one kind and another had been collected. Rogers had found several persons who witnessed the tobacco store incident and were prepared to identify the two strangers who had figured in it. The consensus of opinion seemed to be that the two individuals were foreigners but some difference existed in the matter of fixing their nationality. Some said they were Germans, one man said French and still another was positive that they were Italians. As all efforts to locate the two men themselves proved abortive, however, the uncertainty that existed as to their exact nationality was somewhat beyond the point.
Continued on Page 86.
Continued, from Page 32.
The most important clue was picked up at the New Willard. It was found that a young German, registered under the name of Von Neeland, had arrived there the same day as Praxele and had secured a room next to that occupied by the inventor. It was ascertained that, on the evening when Praxele’s room had been ransacked in his absence, Von Neeland had not gone out. It was further learned that Von Neeland had paid several visits to the German embassy, that he had no particular mission in the country but professed to be studying commercial conditions and, as a final bit of corroborative evidence that he had served in the German navy. In view of these facts, the Secret Service Department became convinced that the young German had engineered the theft of the plans. A careful watch was set on him and, on the first opportunity that offered, his rooms were searched. Praxele himself became convinced that Von Neeland was responsible and moderated his attitude toward the unhappy heads of the Naval Service accordingly.
But the case lagged most unaccountably. No direct evidence could be found to implicate Von Neeland. Eye-witnesses of the tobacco store incident could not identify him as one of the two pedestrians who had “lifted” the papers from Briscoe Robarts. Certain men, all countrymen of Von Neeland’s, visited him at his rooms regularly but, though every visitor was carefully shadowed on departure, nothing tangible was gained in the way of evidence bearing on the theft of the submarine plans. It was evident that Von Neeland was the centre of a mysterious activity into the purpose of which the diligent detectives could not pry-
Then, descending like a bomb-shell from an unexpected aerial visitor, came a development that bid fair to upset all calculations. The phone at Admiral Haldenby’s elbow rang on the second afternoon following the theft.
After a few minutes colloquy, during which the admiral’s face and the tone of his voice expressed several different degrees of astonishment, he put up the receiver and stared almost blankly at Briscoe Robarts, who sat across the desk from him.
“What’s up?” asked the latter, hopefully.
“We’re offered the plans back,” said the admiral, “for a cool fifty thousand!”
“Trace the call back!” cried Robarts, springing up excitedly. “Give me the ’phone. I’ll get after it.”
After some delay the telephone operator succeeded in tracing the call to a public pay ’phone in one of the departmental stores.
“Might as well hunt foxthe proverbial needle in the haystack as try to trace the sender of the message now,” said Robarts, gloomily. “What did he have to say?”
“He said the plans were in his possession and would be turned back to us for that sum. He gave us two days to find the money. If we fail, the plans will be marketed elsewhere.”
“Anything else? Did he suggest any means of communication?”
“No. I judge he intends to devise the means of reaching us again himself. It may be a hoax, of course.”
“What impression did you get of him?” “It was a foreigner speaking. I can’t fix his nationality for certain, though.
I hardly think he was German and I’m positive he was neither French nor Italian. He spoke hurriedly with a decided burr. A man of education and even a degx-ee of refinement, I should judge.” The next day another message was received from the mysterious stranger, the call coming over the ’phone again to Admiral Haldenby. The holder of the stolen plans wanted to know if any steps had been taken with a view to raising the amount demanded. Haldenby asked for proof that the plans were actually held and received a promise that the next mail would bring convincing evidence on that score. On hanging up the receiver, Haldenby noted the exact time that the call had been received, 4.16. The telephone operator failed to trace the call for him, howevex-. Considerably vexed, Haldenby provided against the possibility of a similar lapse by issuing instructions that all telephone messages for either his office or home should be noted at the exchange.
That night a report came in from the Secret Service Department giving details of the movements of Yon Neeland for the day. Only ore item on the long list had any interest for Haldenby. This entry read;
“4.15. Used pay ’phone at New Willard. Talked two minutes.”
Special messenger brought to Haldenby at his residence that evening a large envelope. Opening it, he found it contained a number of brief descriptions purporting to be extracts from the Praxele plans and partial reproductions of drawings. He huri'iedly summoned both Robarts and Praxele and had them go over the matter. It took but a few moments to convince the inventor.
“These are undoubtedly copied from the originals,” he said. “I recognize each phrase; and the drawings as far as they go are exact replicas of my sketches. You will notice that the thief has been cunning enough not to complete any sentence which might give away valuable information as to the invention and the drawings are mere fragments copied here and there with a careful regard not to show important sections. Not only does this man hold the plans but he understands something of the construction of submarines.”
“Then it is no hoax,” said Robarts. “He really means business.”
“In that case, I am prepared to take whatever steps may be necessary to recover the papers,” said Haldenby. “I .haven’t yet given up hope of tracing the thief hut in case this possibility fails us, I am prepared to buy the plans back. I have received the necessary authority on Mr. Robarts' report that the invention is too important to be lost to the country.”
Praxele’s face lighted up at this announcement. Ever since the theft had occurred he had seemed almost on the verge of insanity, haunting naval headquarters and the offices of the secret service, breaking out into violent tirades and threatening all manner of vengeance if the plans were not recovered. He bobbed in and out like a haunting wraith until Robarts, who was worrying considerably on his own account, looked up with apprehension every time his door opened. Now, the inventor showed the first evidence of satisfaction that he had allowed to escape him since the time the plans had disappeared.
“Get it settled without delay,” he advised. “Every day they remain out increases the danger of the plans being copied or duplicated. I’m hopeful that they haven’t been able to make a complete reliable copy yet. There are twenty drawings, some showing an intricacy of detail that would take a long time to copy; and I am convinced that photographic copies would be unsatisfactory. The descriptions, as you know, are pretty extensive. What is more,” said Praxele, triumphantly. “I would defy anyone to duplicate my submarine without fully complete copies of my plans. I prepared them with just such a contingency as this in view!”
The next morning a letter arrived for Admiral Haldenby by registered post. It contained a curt intimation to the effect that, owing to his delay in coming to terms, it had been decided to raise the price to $75,000. Only one more chance would be given for the closing of the deal. The money must be paid over that afternoon. The money was to be carried in an automobile, starting from headquarters at 2.30 and proceeding over a fixed route. The route to be followed was a circuitous one, taking in practically all parts of the city. During the drive, the automobile was to run slowly and, if at any stage of the route was approached closely by another car, must slow down. It was stipulated that only two men should go, the driver and one other. Under no circumstances was the car to be followed. If the instructions were not carried out to the letter, no attempt to effect an exchange would be made and the purloined plans would be at once sold abroad.
At noon the head of the Secret Service Department very much astonished Admiral Haldenby by stating his intention of putting Briscoe Robarts under surveillance. “We are bound to sift this matter to the bottom,” he explained. “Until the plans are recovered we must watch everyone who might have been concerned in the theft and on the evidence there is more reason to suppose that Robarts took them than there is to connect anyone else with the case. Robarts sealed the envelope with the real plans and carried them home with him. He was alone in the library when he opened the envelope. I believe Mr. Robarts to be one of the most highly honorable of men but as the responsibility of recovering these plans rests on me I cannot afford to ignore the possibility revealed in these facts. I would be guilty of very serious negligence if I do not have Mr. Robarts watched until at least the results of this afternoon’s attempt are known.”
Accordingly, Briscoe Robarts was put under skilful surveillance. Unaware that he was being watched, he emerged at 2.15 from his residence, dismissed his chauffeur and started away in his motor car alone. The “shadow” engaged a taxi and followed. Robarts drove to a point on the route laid down and waited. It was perhaps twenty minutes later that a car drove slowly past that he seemed to recognize. He immediately turned and drove over to the next parallel street. Throwing on full speed, he soon came up on a level with the other car so that he could sight it at each cross street. The driver of the taxi in which the “shadow” followed made the mistake of getting too close, however, and Robarts became aware of the fact that he was being followed. He immediately turned toward the downtown section and managed to elude the taxi. The next heard of him, was when he drove up to his residence at four-thirty that afternoon. At that time it was known that the plan to effect the return of the plans had failed and the authorities decided it would pay them to keep Briscoe Robarts under more rigid surveillance. A close watch was set on all his movements.
At one o’clock that afternoon, Peter Praxele was knocked down by an automobile and suffered a strained leg. He had left the New Willard by a side entrance and had stepped off the curb, presumably to hail a taxi and, with his usual feverish disregard of such details as passing automobiles, had stepped directly in the path of one. Much against his will, he had been taken to a hospital. The injury was not a serious one but sufficiently so to warrant the doctor in attendance in refusing to accede to the patient’s demand that he be taken back to the hotel. Among the many mental obsessions from which Praxele suffered was a strong aversion to hospitals.
At two o’clock a still more startling piece of news was brought in. Von Neeland had disappeared. Directly after lunch he had been picked up by a motor car and had succeeded in shaking off pursuit. The detectives who had been assigned to keep him in sight had been thrown off the track completely.
At 2.30 a motor car started out to follow the route laid down by the holder of the plans. Well in the rear a consort car, loaded with plainclothes men, discreetly followed. The first car covered the route slowly and returned to the starting point, without having been accosted on the way.
That night Von Neeland was arrested in Philadelphia. Although no evidence of an incriminating nature was found upon him, he was kept in custody. And there the matter rested.
TRUSTY and fagged from travel, Brandon Bracey dropped into Anson Hogarth’s sitting-room and rather dejectedly took possession of a creaky armchair. It was characteristic of the owner that everything in Hogarth’s apartments was old, worn and out of repair. Visitors had need of caution before seating themselves.
“I’ve failed,” announced Bracey, with a dejected air. “I went over the ground thoroughly. I covered every outlet. And all I was able to get was the bare outline of the story. No amount of cross-examination could uncover a new feature in the case. Any blundering police officer could have secured as much information as I succeeded in getting.”
Hogarth, who was stretched out at full length on a couch, sat up with a movement that, in one of his sedentary habits, spelled unwonted energy.
“Bracey, you interest me,” he said. “There will be some inducement to take up a case which has so completely baffled the most expert of investigators. The only complaint I have had, Bracey, has been that you always got so much information that putting the facts together and reaching a conclusion became the veriest child’s play. This time, it seems, you have something better for me.”
“I reported at once to the head of the secret service at Washington,” began Bracey. “He was astonished that you had not seen fit to investigate the matter yourself and was even more astonished when I informed him that you had never budged from your rooms on a case yet. He had heard all about the big affairs you’ve handled and couldn’t believe at first that the solution in each case had been reached purely on lines of reasoning. However, he was in such a way over the lóss of the papers that he accepted my services with as good grace as could be expected and told me to go ahead.”
Bracey then retailed the facts he hrd gleaned as to the theft of the Praxele plans, giving a painstakingly detailed story. At the conclusion, Hogarth rose with a gesture of dismissal.
“A good case, Bracey,” he said. “Some interesting features. Drop back after lunch.”
When Bracey returned early in the afternoon, he found that Hogarth had reached a conclusion. The general feeling of satisfaction that comes with knowledge of a task well done, showed in the smiling, glance with which the armchair detective greeted his lieutenant.
“It took a little figuring this time,” said Hogarth. “Want the solution first or will I take you over the line of reasoning that I had to follow myself?”
“The latter,” suggested Bracey.
“In the first place,” began Hogarth, “there are three primary theories to account for the theft of the plans from which a choice must be made. Either the theft was carried out by representatives of some foreign country, by adventurers aiming to sell it in the open market at the highest price or by one of the men concerned in the direct negotiations.
“I reject the first suggestion on the evidence presented. If the representatives of a foreign country had secured the plans no effort would have been made to sell them back to the United States Government. The secret is so important that, no nation would voluntarily share it with another.
“In any case is there one single fact that points positively to the complicity of foreign agents? We have Praxele’s word for it that he received a letter purporting
to come from the agent of a European country, offering a large sum. He has never produced that letter. Is it to be supposed that he would fail to bring so valuable a piece of evidence with him, a strong lever to assist him, if necessary, in getting a good price from the U. S. government? In any case, an adventurer, designing to get possession of the plans might be expected to operate under the colors of secret service.
“Now we come to Praxele’s statements with regai d to the attempts made to steal the plans while they were in his possession. Is it to be presumed for a moment that the agents of any European country, skilled in just such work, would be so unspeakably clumsy as the inventor’s account would show them to be? According to his story information of his invention leaked out immediately after the first letter reached the department. The source of this leakage has not been detected. When arrangements were made for Praxele to come north, the information would undoubtedly get out through this same mysterious source. If an effort were to be made to rob the inventor, it could most effectively be done on the trip north. Can you imagine them leaving it until the very last moment and then holding him up in broad daylight? Can you believe that men, trained in the devious ways of secret service, would follow up the first mistake of selecting so unlikely a time for the attempt by not doing it thoroughly?
“There remains Von Neeland to be accounted for. I can find no evidence to connect him directly with the case. It is possible that he is in the country on some service for the German government. This would account for the general air of secrecy that has shrouded his movements. He would call at the Embassy often and he would also be visited by men connected in some way with the work he was doing. The fact that he secured the room next to Praxele may seem suspicious at first but remember this point; it ivas largely because he occupied that, room that suspicion was directed against him. If some other circumstances had come first to connect him with the case and it had then been found that he had a room next to the inventor, then the fact might well have weighed against him. As things were, the occupant of the next room, no matter who he might be, was bound to come in for some attention at the hands of the police. It may or may not have been a coincidence that Von Neeland telephoned at the same time that Haldenby received a message from the thief. It might easily be a coincidence. He made pretty regular use of the ’phone I understand from your story. You inform me that he speaks with a strong German accent. Haldenby could not be sure of the nationality of the man he talked to over the ’phone but did not think he was a German. However, I must leave that point open. If I can prove that some one else stole the plans, then Von Neeland will automatically be acquitted of suspicion and it will be self-evident that his use of the phone just at that time was a coincidence. In any event it is not conclusive enough to hang any theories on.
“The fact that he disappeared is further evidence to support my contention. He must have been well aware that he was being shadowed. Engaged in some form of secret service for his government this espionage would be highly undesirable. That he would endeavor to shake it off is most natural under the circumstances. That he left the city before the time set for the transfer of the plans is surely the most striking proof that he was not concerned in the matter. Judging by the time he was arrested in Philadelphia, he must have left Washington before the motor car started out.
“This brings us to the second proposition, that the theft was carried out by private adventurers. If this is the real solution, we must accept the theory of the police that the papers were taken when Robarts was jostled by two men on emerging from the cigar store. The plans were intact when Robarts sealed the envelope in his office. If the theft were committed by outsiders, then the only opportunity they had was when this jostling occurred and we must suppose that the real envelope was abstracted from Robarts’ pocket and the duplicate slipped into its place in the brief instant that the collision occurred. Robarts had placed the envelope in an inside coat pocket and had his top coat buttoned over.
“Such a feat is not an impossible one, of course. Such things are done. But according to Praxele’s story no one had seen the envelope up to the time he produced it in Haldenby’s office. During luncheon hour it was locked in the vaults. If a gang of adventurers stole the plans from Robarts in the manner that the police have assumed, then they must have slipped the duplicate envelope into his pocket at the same time. What opportunity had there been for the preparation of the duplicate? Unless Robarts himself was implicated, there was no way in which a duplicate could be made. And, of course, if Robarts were concerned that would bring the theft under the third heading.
“But, if the theft can be ascribed neither to representatives of a foreign country nor to theft at the hands of outsiders, then how do we account for the attempts made to get the plans from Praxele? There is every reason to believe that no such attempts were made. We have in the first place only Praxele’s word for it that they did occur. He did not tell the hotel authorities of the raid on his rooms, although it would have been the natural thing to do to protect himself from further attempts. Although the hold-up occurred on a busy street in broad daylight the police received no word of it and the papers had no report. Could such a remarkable incident go unreported ?
“And then consider this fact. Although Praxele is by nature abnormally suspicious, he did not mention these attempts on his first interview with Haldenby and Robarts. Can you imagine this man, with whom the safeguarding of his invention had become an obsession, not invoking protection against such ruthless and determined efforts, when it would have been in the power of the government to render the most effectual protection? And further still, after having been attacked in broad daylight and having kept the plans only by a lucky accident, would he have thought of carrying the plans back with him, placing them in serious jeopardy again? Remember he was only dissuaded from carrying them away with him at noon with much difficulty.
“Altogether we are justified in considering the stories told by Praxele as myths and in dismissing the first two of the three possible solutions. That leaves the onus for the theft between three men, Haldenby, Robarts and Praxele himself. Only one of these three could have effected the exchange of the envelopes; and I think j you will realize now that we are getting close to the truth.
“I think we are justified in dropping Haldenby out of the consideration altogether. There is nothing to connect him with the theft.
“Now we have cleared the decks of all I the side issues which have served to befog ; the question ; and we find that it simmers down to a choice between two men, Robarts and Praxele. Let us consider the case of Robarts first. Undoubtedly he had the opportunity to steal the plans. They were in his possession all the afternoon and he opened the envelope alone in his \ library. It would have been an easy matter to take the plans out and slip blank paper back into the envelope before sum¡ moning the detectives. One point you failed to clear up. If you had learned that the envelope in which the blank paper was found was the same as that in which the originals had been placed, then Robarts i would have found some difficulty in proving his innocence. In such a case I would have been prepared to sweep aside all the fabrications with which Praxele has complicated the case as the mere eccentricity and the insincerity that guides the actions of such men. But it seems that everyone, including yourself, Bracey, have accepted the envelope as a duplicate, i
“As for Robarts’ actions in following the Government car secretly, two explanations offer themselves. One is that he had the plans and meant to exchange them for the money. This can be discarded as he would not be mad enough to I 'attempt the exchange himself. The other ! explanation is that, owing to the mental worry over his personal responsibility for the loss, he could not abstain from following the car. He may have had the idea that at some stage he could be of assistance. Finding himself followed, he may have suspected that the holders of the plans were on guard to prevent any attempt at police interference. Fearing that if he continued to follow it would deter them from handing over the plans, he turned aside and perhaps endeavored to pick up the trail farther on. This is j the only feasible explanation.
“In any case, there is no evidence against Robarts other than the fact that he had the opportunity to steal the plans. On the other hand we have certain facts, : in connection with Praxele, that give scope for a more direct study. Let us, therefore, drop Robarts for the time being and consider the case of Praxele.
“We feel convinced that he faked stories of attempts to steal his secret. The possible motive is found in the man’s attitude on his first interview with the naval department heads He offers to make certain •explanations of the plans. Then he suddeni ly stops and begins to temporize. Before he lets the plans go definitely out of his hands, which will happen, as soon as these explanations are made, he wants to be assured of what the Government will do for him. He is afraid that he may be cheated of his rights and he wants money right away. He does not want to wait for the orgy of relaxation and pleasureseeking that he feels is his due. He questions Haldenby and can get no assurance. It is possible that the thought then shot through his mind that the only way to realize on the invention at once would be to steal the plans and sell them to the Government for a lump sum, after which he could afford to sit back and wait for his own settlement. To do this it would be necessary to have a duplicate of the envelope, for, of course, no suspicion must attach to him. For that purpose, he refuses to go over the plans but suggests a further interview that afternoon. What other motive could he have for wanting to take the plans back with him? He must leave the plans with the department ultimately and if verbal explanations were necessary for a full understanding of the plans what danger could there be in leaving the plans before these explanations were made?
“Not being able to advance any feasible reason for taking them, he gives in unwillingly. During the noon hour, he makes a duplicate from memory. At the afternoon conference he tells the story of the conspiracy to steal the plans, after Robarts had sealed the envelope with the real papers. This served a double purpose. It provided a plausible reason for the disappearance of the plans and it gave Praxele an opportunity to make the exchange which otherwise would not have occurred. You will remember that Robarts went to the ’phone to summon the detectives.
“This theory, which fits in with all the facts of the case, is strengthened and corroborated by later developments. The strange party who calls up Haldenby speaks with a foreign accent but the latter is not able to fix the nationality with any degree of certainty. This would be the probable effect if someone were attempting to speak as a foreigner. Praxele was running in and out of the offices all the time but he was not present when any of the ’phone messages were received. He hears Haldenby say that he can get the money to pay the price and next morning a demand for a higher figure is received. Although the instructions to cover the return of the plans were followed out explicitly, no attempt was made to secure the money. An hour and a half before, Praxele had been injured and forcibly carried to the hospital. He shoivs the utmost anxiety after the accident to get back to his room? Why should he want to leave the hospital where he can get the best possible care, unless there is something in his room that he wants to keep an eye on?”
“Altogether, Bracey,” said Hogarth, with an air of weariness, “I think I would have a look over Praxele’s room at the New Willard before they let him out of the hospital.”
HEN Peter Praxele was able to V “ leave the hospital, with a limp and a burning eagerness for action, he was driven at once to the office of Admiral Haldenby. The latter bowed cordially
and produced an envelope from his desk.
“The plans were recovered during your enforced idleness,” he said, quite soberly. “Suppose we resume negotiations at the point where we left off when the theft occurred and in the meantime forget all about this little incident?”
The two men exchanged a long and meaning look.
“I am content,” said Praxele finally.